Bente Birkeland

Capitol Coverage Reporter for Rocky Mountain Community Radio

Bente Birkeland has covered Colorado politics and government since spring of 2006. She loves the variety and challenge of the state capitol beat and talking to people from all walks of life. Bente's work has aired on NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered, American Public Media'sMarketplace, and she was a contributor for WNYC's The Next Big Thing. She has won numerous local and national awards, including best beat reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors. Bente grew up in Minnesota and England, and loves skiing, hiking, and is an aspiring cello player. She lives in Lakewood with her husband.

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Wednesday lawmakers in the Colorado House are scheduled to debate whether terminally ill patients should be allowed to take medication to end their own lives. It’s the first chance for members of the full House to weigh in on the controversial topic. Supporters are still counting votes, according to reporter Bente Birkeland.

Update 5.13.2016: Gov. John Hickenlooper has signed legislation finally legalizing rain barrels. Our original story continues below.

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Colorado is the only state in the country where it is illegal to capture rainwater for use at a later time. State lawmakers are once again debating whether to allow residents to use rain barrels to collect precipitation that falls from their roofs.

"This is really straightforward," said Representative Jessie Danielson (D-Wheat Ridge), one of the main sponsor's of House Bill 16-1005 [.pdf]. "You could use that water when you see fit, for your tomato plants or flower gardens."

Colorado lawmakers are divided over whether a hospital provider fee should be reclassified in the state budget so it doesn't count toward the state's revenue limit under the Tax Payer's Bill of Rights.

State legislators discussed a number of law enforcement and criminal justice bills this past week along with some other controversial measures.

Colorado could be the next state to allow hunters to wear florescent pink. A Democratic proposal to give hunters the option of wearing pink – in addition to the traditional safety orange – has passed the Republican controlled Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee.

"I hunt because it's a treasured time with my dad and my brothers," said Senator Kerry Donovan (D-Vail), a big game hunter and sponsor of Senate Bill 68 [.pdf]. "And the stories that happen in hunting camp are the stories that my family tell over and over again."

A bill to expand a state program to offer driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants in Colorado will be introduced at the state capitol later in February. The original law [.pdf], which Democrats passed when they controlled both chambers in 2013, allows undocumented immigrants who have lived in Colorado for at least two years and have paid taxes to get a license, if they pay an extra fee.

"I want to know when I'm driving that the people driving next to me know the same rules as I do. Especially when you come from a different country, road signs might look different," said Rep. Jonathan Singer (D-Longmont), sponsor of a new bill that would expand the program to 32 driver's license offices across the state.

"They deserve the opportunity to show that they are willing to be a part of our community, willing to play by the rules."

Roughly three weeks into Colorado's annual legislative session, a lot of bills are starting to get their first hearings. We've heard the priorities of the leaders and the governor, as well as some of the more interesting bills.

But 2016 is an election year, and a presidential one no less. How will politics impact the bills being heard in committees?

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During his State of the State address, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper expressed concerns about marijuana edibles.

"Back in the day, candy cigarettes desensitized kids to the dangers of tobacco," said Hickenlooper. "Today, pot-infused gummy bears send the wrong message to our kids about marijuana."

Senator John Singer (D, Longmont) thinks the state has created good child-proof packaging, but still needs to improve the labels and description of what's inside. 

Gov. John Hickenlooper delivered his sixth State of the State address to the state Legislature Thursday. In his speech he highlighted the need for people from all political stripes to work together to fix the state's big budget problems and discussed Colorado's economic gains and challenges.

"We're one of the top states for economic growth," Hickenlooper said. "One of the best places for business and careers, for quality of life, for health and tourism."

The Colorado capitol had a back to school vibe Wednesday, with families and friends joining lawmakers in the chamber for the opening of Colorado's annual legislative session. The building hummed with activity — and the usual pomp and ceremony and opening day speeches — after the eight month interim. Isaac Slade, the lead singer of the Denver-based rock band The Fray, sang the national anthem in the Senate.

But it wasn't all fun, the first bills are introduced on opening day, and lawmakers begin to outline their priorities for the next four months.

Colorado's Speaker of the House, Dickey Lee Hullinghorst (D-Boulder), is entering her second year as the leader of the chamber; she is also term limited at the end of the 2016 session. What are her priorities in her final year under the recently refurbished gold dome of the capitol?

When Colorado's 2016 legislative session convenes Jan. 13, Democrats will have a one-seat minority in the state Senate. They'll also have a new minority leader for the upcoming session, Lucia Guzman of Denver.

Colorado Department of Natural Resources

The Executive Director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources is leaving the position at the end of January to become Denver Water’s Director of planning.

According to state and federal census figures, Colorado's population is expected to grow by an additional 2.3 million people by 2040. That's going to significantly impact the way we live – from traffic congestion, to water, to quality of life.

Most noticeably will be a shift to an older population.

The Colorado Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday on whether local cities in Colorado can either ban hydraulic fracturing or declare a moratorium. The chamber was filled with a who’s who in the energy world, from policy experts and state and city officials, to top attorneys and environmental activists, highlighting the importance of the cases.

“We’re very, very, serious about not wanting fracking anywhere near us,” said Kaye Fissinger with Our Longmont. She helped spearhead the ballot campaign which Longmont voters passed in 2012. “It was a landslide victory 60 to 40 percent. The people spoke. And the people should be heard.”

The seven justices heard an hour of arguments on the Longmont case, along with an hour of arguments on the five-year fracking moratorium passed by the city of Fort Collins.

According to state and federal census figures Colorado’s population is expected to grow by an additional 2.3 million people by the year 2040. And that’s going to significantly impact the way we live, from traffic congestion to water - and to quality of life. But most noticeably will be a shift to an older population. Bente Birkeland looks at how the state is trying to prepare for aging residents.

Dozens of watch parties were held across the state Wednesday night as the Republican Party's presidential contenders held their third debate at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

In downtown Denver, at the Epernay Lounge, business and grassroots Republican groups hosted a debate watch party that mostly consisted of moderate Republicans; many were undecided and had several possibilities for support.

Local tax and spending issues, as well as city council and mayoral races largely dominate Colorado's 2015 election. There is only one statewide question, which asks voters whether the state can keep marijuana tax money it's already collected to pay for school construction, law enforcement and other programs.

If that's a question that sounds familiar – that's because it is. Proposition BB will actually be the third time Colorado voters have weighed in on taxing marijuana.

Colorado is well-known for its outdoor recreation, but Gov. John Hickenlooper wants to take it to the next level - by making it even easier for people to access open space and parks. In addition to a previously unveiled Colorado the Beautiful Initiative, the governor has also pledged $100 million to create and connect bike trails.

"The ultimate goal is connecting everyone from Denver to the foothills and mountains to the west," said Tom Hoby, Jefferson County's director of open space and parks.

The U.S. Department of Interior decided Tuesday that the greater sage grouse does not need protection under the Endangered Species Act. The bird spans 11 western states including Colorado, where it lives in pockets along the western slope, but is mostly concentrated in the northwest part of the state.

Gov. John Hickenlooper was one of the many people working to avoid a federal listing for the bird. While the sage grouse decision is a win for the governor, a few other initiatives – and longtime battles in Colorado – still need his attention.

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